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Scouts and Seizers: Community-Oriented Policing in Blackfoot (Niitsitapi) Communities of Southern Alberta, 1874-1919



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In the late nineteenth century, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) formulated and implemented the first community-oriented policing program in modern police history: the Indian Scout System of southern Alberta. The 1880s saw a fracturing of the relationship between the NWMP and the Niitsitapi (also known as the Blackfoot), as the latter occasionally threatened or assaulted NWMP parties sent out to apprehend suspected lawbreakers. More commonly, Niitsitapi communities simply refused to assist police investigations or help recover stolen property. The NWMP’s initial response was to leverage intimidation and the threat of force to change Niitsitapi behaviour. To this end, the NWMP continuously allocated manpower resources to southern Alberta and built dozens of posts to monitor Niitsitapi reserves. An analysis of NWMP distribution patterns – made possible through Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software – illustrates that the Niitsitapi were more heavily surveilled than other Indigenous peoples in the Canadian Prairie West. But this approach failed, and resistance continued. This development, combined with the fear of another uprising comparable to the North-West Resistance of 1885 – this time led by the more dangerous Niitsitapi – forced the NWMP to change strategies: attaching Niitsitapi men to the force as Indian Scouts, so they could police their own communities. However, because the Niitsitapi were angry with how the Canadian federal government had implemented Treaty 7, they initially refused to participate. The NMWP then engaged in a sustained program of positive, nonenforcement engagement – where the police helped to build reserve economies and advocated for particular Niitsitapi interests – to rebuild trust. This approach succeeded, resulting in many Niitsitapi men happily serving as “Indian Scouts” between 1891 and 1919. Indian Scout was a misnomer though; an analysis of scout duties illustrates that they performed many of the same ones that Euro-Canadian policemen did. Indian Scouts helped achieve better law enforcement outcomes on reserves because they spoke the language, knew the land, and had personal contacts that Euro-Canadian officers did not have. Overall, the Indian Scout System's story demonstrates that incorporating the Niitsitapi into the Canadian State was not one of rank subjugation, but a combination of coercion and consent. It was a process that ultimately emphasized negotiation.



Blackfoot, Niitsitapi, Policing, North-West Mounted Police, Canadian Indian Policy, Community-Oriented



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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